Science and Engineering Practices

In the following sections, we first explain the synergy between each science and engineering practice and the five MDPs. We then provide multiple examples, options, and variations of activities and instructional strategies that are aligned with each MDP and the focal practice in order to be as comprehensive and specific as possible. However, this does not mean that teachers must use all of these strategies to enact the MDPs when promoting each science and engineering practice, nor that these strategies are the only way to do so. We encourage teachers to use their professional discretion to select what will work best for them and their classrooms, and to modify and innovate on these strategies, using the blank space provided at the end of each section for notes, reflections, and new ideas.

Engaging in Argument from Evidence

Practice 7: Engaging in Argument from Evidence

Belonging Supports for Engaging in Argument from Evidence

To engage fully in this practice, students should be comfortable with each other and trust that when they engage in argumentation from evidence in their class they are arguing about ideas and not the people expressing those ideas. Instructional strategies that support students’ feelings of belonging cultivate a safe space for students to engage in such productive argumentation when making sense of a phenomenon or solving a problem. Strategies that support belonging also encourage students to develop a sense of being part of a community of scientists and engineers, which is especially important for students who may not have a well-developed science identity or who may feel alienated from science [see Motivation as a Tool for Equity]. As students begin to feel a greater sense of belonging and understand the process of argumentation used within their science classroom community and within science and engineering communities, they may feel more inclined to engage in argumentation from evidence as a practice.


Encourage students to use everyday language or home languages for initial argumentative activities. Help students then connect their everyday language to academic language for scientific argumentation.
Many strategies from equitable teaching frameworks (e.g., culturally responsive pedagogy) address ways to recognize and incorporate diverse communication practices into the classroom that can provide a bridge to engaging students in scientific argumentation.
During full class share outs or debates between students, set norms for when students share, critique, and reconcile arguments. Relate norms to the discourse that takes place in science and engineering communities around understanding phenomena and designing solutions to problems using evidence:
  • Be sure sentence frames are visible to students (e.g., “I agree with what [name] said because…”). Whereas discussion norms should be an everyday practice, these sentence frames create a safe space for students to learn from each other how to engage in argumentation through the encouragement of non-judgmental interactions
Use groups and/or allow individual work time for students to gather their thoughts on their understanding of a phenomenon or their process for evaluating design solutions before sharing out to the full class. This can boost confidence to engage in argumentation with the larger group through support of brainstorming with a smaller, more familiar set of classroom peers and/or opportunities for individual processing of ideas.
During argumentation activities, pay close attention to student behaviors that may reflect cultural differences or individual preferences, and be prepared to modify communication structures accordingly. For example, some students may feel uncomfortable making eye contact when sharing ideas or directly contradicting a peer. Collecting sticky notes of ideas or using a fishbowl structure where some students discuss while others observe could be an interim strategy to support the development of these students’ argumentation skills in class while working individually with students on building their comfort level with eye contact.

Some students may lack confidence to engage in argumentation, especially if they feel unsure of their own science and engineering understanding. Teachers can combat this lack of confidence by helping students understand the goals and expectations of argumentation and in supporting students throughout the process of developing and making an argument with guidance and informational feedback. Showing students that strategies can help them compose effective arguments can also help build their confidence in this practice. Finally, careful attention to the specificity of the informational feedback students receive when competing arguments are considered and evaluated is critical to supporting students’ confidence in argumentation.


Scaffold new and/or complex tasks to support students’ engagement in argumentation:
  • Create tools to support common tasks (e.g., graphic organizers for Claim-Evidence-Reasoning) and make them consistently available to students. This can help make challenging tasks more accessible
  • Use board space or anchor charts to ensure that the central question is clear and to record and sort points of agreement and disagreement as the students move toward reconciliation in their argument
  • Provide options for level of challenge so students can select the level that suits them. For example, allow students to decide whether or not they need a Claim-Evidence-Reasoning graphic organizer later in the school year
Work with English Language Arts colleagues to develop aligned vocabulary and strategies for teaching students argumentation. The consistency and encouragement from multiple teachers will help students gain confidence in this practice.
Use individual and private progress charts to track students’ key skills and competencies (e.g., Claim-Evidence-Reasoning writing, supporting claims with evidence, reconciling ideas with their peers) over time so that students can see growth in their argumentation about explanations, models, investigation methods, and data analyses over time. These charts can be used in individual conferences with students, to help students set personally challenging but attainable goals, and to help teachers create work that is appropriately challenging for the student.
Set norms where students have guidelines to follow for engaging in argumentation – e.g., each student has a chance to speak, must offer at least one piece of evidence for their claim, models, investigation methods, and data analyses. Provide opportunities for students to illustrate their understanding in a variety of ways as they make sense of phenomena or solve design problems.
Give students opportunities to revise their original arguments as they gain scientific knowledge. Provide informational feedback on the revision that identifies the growth in their understanding to help students gain confidence in their explanations, models, investigation methods, and data analyses.
Structure group activities with various meaningful roles that students can choose from and that target different elements of effective argumentation in order to decrease the burden and complexity of the task for each student. For example, during a debate, one student might be in charge of external research, another might identify existing evidence from class investigations, another might review the scientific principles that can be used as reasoning, while another might consider potential counterarguments and counterevidence.

The purpose of argumentation in science and engineering is to come to consensus on explanations, models, data analysis, interpretations, and other artifacts of engaging in science and engineering practices. When students are the authors of these artifacts, they can perceive arguments about their work and ideas as a critique of them personally or a judgment on their intelligence, especially if they worry about confirming negative stereotypes that others may hold about their scientific ability [see Motivation as a Tool for Equity]. A learning orientation helps students see that argumentation is focused on reaching consensus about ideas (i.e., reaching a shared understanding of a phenomenon or design problem) rather than judging an individual or the individual’s ideas. Argumentation requires that students listen to each others’ evidence and ideas, which could lead them to reflect on and revise their own ideas or choose other supporting evidence. Having a learning orientation sets up students to be open to adjusting their own explanations/models/interpretations/designs based on others’ arguments to improve their understanding of a phenomenon or optimization of a design solution.


Model for students the process of offering an evidence-based argument around understanding phenomena or solving problems, receiving feedback and responses (from students), and modifying the original argument to demonstrate how to engage in argumentation with a learning orientation and normalize the practice of having ideas critiqued.
Use descriptive, criteria-based rubrics to evaluate oral and written arguments to help students better understand the components of persuasive argumentation and effective supporting evidence and avoid focusing on whether their argument is “good,” “right,” or high-scoring.
Use a fishbowl discussion to allow some students to practice making and defending arguments while other students observe and evaluate the arguments (and potentially any talk moves that students are practicing using) and provide feedback to the discussants. Make sure to rotate groups so that students get practice in both roles.
After discussions or writing assignments where students have presented and defended arguments, explanations, or ideas, routinely schedule in reflection time for students to think about and explain where they have landed in their thinking, extending the practice of argumentation to private reflection and synthesis as students develop a greater understanding of a phenomenon or identify optimal characteristics from a set of design solutions. Then, bring closure to an argument where students reconcile their differing ideas so that they can decide on next steps as a class. Whether or not students are able to reach consensus, ask them questions like “What is our best explanation at this point?” or “Who has changed their thinking?” in order to promote the practice that argumentation involves working together to achieve a greater shared understanding.
Whether in writing or discussion, individually or in groups, have students provide evidence and reasoning for multiple sides of an argument, as well as for counterarguments and changing arguments, in order to emphasize that there are numerous explanations, models, investigation methods, and approaches to data analysis and that they can be revised over time in light of new information about a phenomenon or design problem.
A whole-class activity like Four Corners or a continuum could support students articulating multiple arguments/dimensions of an argument by taking a stance (e.g., strongly agree, agree, disagree, strongly disagree) and then explaining their evidence and reasoning to try to persuade others. It would also provide students an opportunity to hear multiple perspectives during a classroom activity and ask questions of their peers, build off of their arguments, or change their own mind about which argument is best supported by evidence. Support students in respectfully identifying strengths and weaknesses of their peers’ claims during this activity
  • Some “why” questions that can be asked to help students support their claims:
    • What evidence do you have?
    • What scientific ideas support your claim?
    • Why do you agree or disagree? What are your reasons? What is your evidence?
    • What could be some other possible claims? Do you have evidence?
    • Do you agree with the points being made? Why?
    • Who has a different opinion? What is it? How is it different?
    • Why are you using that as evidence and not the other data? How would your claim change if you used all the data?
    • How is that idea related to what was previously discussed? What reasons do you have for saying that?
Introduce and practice teacher and student talk moves and sentence stems that make requesting and providing evidence/reasons a routine practice in the classroom and focus attention on the ideas rather than the ability, intelligence, or status of the students sharing them.

Autonomy is critical for students to be able to engage meaningfully in authentic scientific argumentation to make sense of phenomena or solve design problems. Students need adequate time and opportunity to generate and revise claims, gather evidence, justify their ideas, and evaluate their own arguments against other possibilities. Additionally, providing students with a rationale for why argumentation is a key practice in science and engineering is an important way to support their sense of autonomy in selecting evidence and constructing and evaluating arguments.


In tasks where one claim is clearly stronger than others (e.g., because of students’ current knowledge level or curricular scripts), be precise about where students will be exercising autonomy, to avoid presenting students with a false sense of choice. For example, instead of saying, “You can choose any claim you want,” prompt students with, “Choose the claim that you feel is best supported by the evidence.” It can also be useful to engage students knowingly in the process of defending an invalid claim (i.e., playing “devil’s advocate”) to reinforce the practice of argumentation and evaluation of evidence.
Structure in reflection time after engaging in argumentation to give students an opportunity to think about their explanations, models, investigation methods, and data analyses and decide on next steps that will help them further understand a phenomenon or solve a design problem, rather than relying on the teacher/curriculum to tell them what to do next.
Structure group activities with meaningful roles that students can choose from and that target different elements of effective argumentation. For example, during a debate, one student might be in charge of external research, another might identify existing evidence from class investigations, another might review the scientific principles that can be used as reasoning, while another might consider potential counterarguments and counterevidence.
Consistently use talk moves that ask students to identify evidence or press for reasoning to ensure that they are cognitively engaged in justifying their claims while engaging in argumentation. Select talk moves that pose questions to students or are sufficiently open-ended such that students have the opportunity to respond in their own way about how they are making sense of phenomena or solving design problems. Try to avoid questions to students where they may feel guided or controlled by the teacher to deliver a predetermined answer. Encourage students to use similar strategies to press the teacher for reasoning. Such discourse also supports a learning orientation.
Explicitly teach students sentence and question stems so that they can use them in small group work with each other. This allows for more cognitively demanding argumentation work to be done in student-directed small groups rather than in a teacher-led whole-class format, which can constrain feelings of autonomy.
Try to design argumentation prompts such that they are not yes/no questions and multiple legitimate claims are possible. For instance, choose an issue with both pros and cons so that the team that presents their evidence and reasoning most convincingly will “win” (e.g., nuclear energy is a long-term option for society’s energy needs, which student design better meets the criteria for a design problem, etc.).

Argumentation will be most successful in the classroom if students see the relevance of what they are arguing to their own lives. Supports for relevance help teachers to frame arguments within students’ interests, show students the value in a topic they might not otherwise value, and encourage students to connect and apply argumentation skills to understanding phenomena and designing solutions to problems that affect their lives. These relevance connections can be especially important for students who identify with communities that have been marginalized or disenfranchised in science, as it empowers them to apply scientific argumentation to issues that matter to them and their communities [see Motivation as a Tool for Equity]. Additionally, students may already engage in argumentation without consistently using evidence. Seeing that using evidence is an integral part of argumentation for scientists and engineers to achieve key goals (e.g., to find the most thoughtful designs, appropriate analytic techniques, reasonable interpretations, and best solutions to new problems) may encourage students to use evidence more consistently in their arguments.


Many strategies from equitable teaching frameworks (e.g., culturally responsive pedagogy) address ways to learn more about the local community and their needs, and to connect science and engineering learning to those needs, including recognizing and incorporating the knowledge and needs of students and the community as valid components of an argument.
Select phenomena and design problems that allow students to engage in argumentation over local science and engineering issues that affect their daily lives. For example, there may be flooding in their neighborhood due to recent rains, and students can develop solutions for how to minimize its impact. Students can present and support arguments for which solutions are optimal and which are less practical. Then, students can evaluate their peers’ claims and evidence/reasons before they reconcile their ideas.
Ask students to think about and share lived experiences of their own (or on those they’ve wondered about) that relate to the connections they are making with current argumentation tasks. This provides opportunity for explanation, elaboration, and opens the floor to contrasting perspectives (supports cultural relevance and development of argumentation skills).
Share examples of scientific arguments from the past that have resulted in an understanding of the natural world that impacts everyday lives (e.g., the germ theory of disease vs. miasma theory).